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December 7, 2011

‘You Deserve It’ Deserves an Audience

On ABC's new reality-TV-meets-game-show, it truly is better to give than receive

In general, I’m a horrible companion for watching game shows, particularly if you like watching them in peace. I’m competitive by nature, especially when it comes to intellectual challenges. I’m the one that guesses all the answers, quite loudly. I compete against the people on screen, as if shouting answers at the TV faster will result in the sudden accumulation of prize winnings in my bank account. (No luck yet.)

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But ABC’s newest game show You Deserve It(Mondays 9/8c) is different for one reason: the contestants on the show aren’t playing for themselves. They’re playing on behalf of someone they care about, someone who could use the money earned on the show for their needs—someone who has no idea what’s happening. As host Chris Harrison (of The Bachelor fame) enthusiastically declares each episode, You Deserve It is a game that believes it’s better to give than to receive.

The game show aspect is fairly simple. Contestants have five chances to earn cash amounts ranging from $10,000 in the first round to $250,000 in the final round. They’re given a category (who, where, or what) and one free clue that describes the answer they need to guess to win the round. Nine more clues are available for purchase, but the amount those clues cost depends on the cash amount hidden behind a number the contestant has to pick. The clue’s cost is deducted from the amount of prize money available that round.

In that aspect, You Deserve It is like most any game show, albeit dragged out a little in its hour-long format. Contestants spend much of their time reasoning aloud as the clues are revealed and angsting over which number to pick to deduct the lowest amount from their winnings. Harrison does a pretty good job here acting as a sounding board. He doesn’t offer (too much) cheesy dialogue, and if contestants get distressed by choosing a high dollar amount for clue, he keeps it all in perspective and gets them back in the game.

The show’s most compelling side centers around the person that each contestant is trying to help. Each episode begins like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, with a montage of footage and pictures submitted by the contestant and other friends and family of the recipient, outlining why this person deserves the money. It borders on being overly emotionally manipulative, but so far You Deserve It has done a good job of keeping the swelling, overdramatic music to a minimum (which is where Extreme Makeover often loses me) and letting the emotional pull of the stories themselves do the work of endearing us to both the contestant and recipient.

There’s also a hidden-camera element; Harrison’s co-host, Brooke Burns, checks in regularly from a location near the unsuspecting recipients, hiding out until after the final round, when she can inform them just how much money they’re about to make. Personally, the hour-long wait is worth it for the expressions on their faces during the big reveal.

All in all, You Deserve It is a refreshing take for the game show genre. It’s currently only scheduled to air two more new episodes, as it was intended to get viewers into the holiday spirit. Whether it will be picked up for a longer run remains to be seen. I hope it gets the chance to continue; it deserves it.

Here's a clip from the show:

Morgan Feddes is CT's Editorial Resident.

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